Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Working in Southend

I had two periods of working in Southend during the 1960s.

In 1964, still only months after entering cinema management, I was transferred as Assistant Manager from the Odeon Barking to the Ritz Southend.

The Ritz was one of two cinemas which the Rank Organisation operated in Southend, the other being the Odeon, and when I was a boy there had been a third, the Gaumont.

I was Assistant to Neville Hartley.

The Ritz was situated at the bottom of the High Street, and at the top of Pier Hill, where the Royals shopping centre is today. The view from our office must have been one of the best in any cinema in the world. Not only did we overlook Southend Pier, we could also see right across the estuary of the River Thames to Kent.

It was while I was at the Ritz that I made my first foray into publicity. When we were about to show a particularly dreadful vampire film, I hired a vampire costume, complete with cloak and terrifying mask. One of the doormen put the costume on, and he and I went down to the Seafront, where he was supposed to frighten people while I took photographs.

But it didn't really go that well, as whenever he tried to menace young girls, they looked up in that blase way that young girls have always been able to affect, and said "Oh yeah, a vampire".

Eventually, he said to me "I'm really dying for a fag", so I let him take his mask off - and all the girls screamed.

I used to regularly work on the live shows at the Odeon, having become acknowledged as the expert on crowd control.

After I had been at the Ritz for a few months, I got married for the first time, at St. Mary's Church at Prittlewell - it snowed the night before. When I came back to work at the Ritz, I had to go on a two week management training course, which was based at the State Kilburn. It was residential, but under the circumstances I was allowed to go home every night. I just stayed one night, at a hotel in Maida Vale.

Although I was nominally Assidtant Manager at the Ritz, I spent more time out on relief - a couple of days here, a couple of days there, a week here, a week there.

Some of the places where I worked in this period were Becontree; Brentwood; Chadwell Heath; Chelmsford; Colchester; Dagenham; Dalston; East Ham; Gants Hill; Hatfield; Hemel Hampstead; Hornchurch; Kilburn; Luton; Romford; St. Albans; and Watford.

In 1965, my eldest daughter Theresa was born. It was arranged that I would work at the Odeon for three days when she was due to be born, so that I didn't have any responsibility and could dash home at a moment's notice.

At the Odeon for these three days was a live show featuring Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and with Des O'Connor as compere and also with his own spot.

Des O'Connor, the butt of so many jokes, is actually one of the finest stand up comedians I have ever encountered. His spot was at least half an hour, delivered twice a night (yes, we had two performances nightly in those days). I watched and listened to all his performances, and he didn't repeat a single story or joke once.

In the end, Theresa was born late, so it didn't apply, but I learned afterwards that Des was waiting to be given the good news so that he could announce it on stage.

Eventually, Ted Carter, the General Manager at the Odeon Gants Hill, with whom I had done my initial training, asked for me to come back as House Manager (a sort of important Assistant Manager), and of course I was honoured to do so. From there, I obtained my first appointment as a Manager in my own right, at the Odeon Whalebone Lane at Becontree Heath.

I went back to Southend, however, when a reorganisation meant that the Odeon, the Ritz and the DSU (Direct Street Unit, meaning a kiok selling sweets, cigarettes etc directly onto Southend High Street) all came under the same management.

The DSU was an interesting concept. Of course, all cinemas sold these commodities in a kiosk in the foyer, but selling directly to passers by was a different matter. Southend High Street was not pedestrianised then, and there were several bus stops outside the Odeon, so there was no shortage of custom.

I was appointed Deputy General Manager, with the very experienced Arthur Levenson as General Manager, and we also had a number of Assistant Managers and trainees.

It was a very useful piece of experience. Very few people until then had been involved in running two different cinemas at the same time, and I later put the experience to good use.

After a while, though, I went back to the Odeon Whalebone Lane, where I could manage a cinema in the usual way, and stayed there until moving into the West End of London.